Developing local and regional food systems

farmer-holding-vegetables1-300x199Julie Dawson, UW-Extension horticulture specialist
Department of Horticulture
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Phone (608) 609-6165

Connecting the needs of markets to local growers is an important part of developing local food systems. Julie Dawson describes how regional food systems can create a synergy between urban production and rural production.

3:08 – Total Time

0:20 – What local and regional food systems are
0:54 – “Peri-urban” farms
1:07 – Research for growers
1:37 – Developing quality foods
2:07 – Connecting growers to markets
2:33 – Ideal system is inclusive
2:59 – Lead out



Sevie Kenyon: Julie, start out by telling us what local and regional food systems might be.

Julie Dawson: It’s not really defined exactly what that means. There are a lot of different interpretations of local. I think we need to go more towards a more regional food system where we have a synergy between urban production and rural production especially peri-urban farms that are marketing directly to cities and are serving the metropolitan population. And so I’m trying to do research and extension that benefits direct market farms like those serving farmers markets, CSA farms, farms selling to restaurants, farms selling to local grocers.

Sevie Kenyon: And Julie, you used a word, peri-urban, can you tell us what that is?

Julie Dawson: That’s really the land surrounding a metropolitan area so it’s farms that are on the fringe between urban and rural and that are primarily marketing to urban areas.

Sevie Kenyon: And what do these growers need from you?

Julie Dawson: I’m working on research on management practices such as hoop houses that can be of benefit to direct market growers. We have a tomato trial this year that’s inside a hoop house and outside a hoop house to look at differences in how they perform in those two situations and then I’m also particularly interested in quality. Quality in terms of types of attributes that consumers at farmers markets, CSAs and restaurants are looking for from local foods.

Sevie Kenyon: What kinds of things are you inferring when you talk about quality?

Julie Dawson: Well we’re looking to be able to measure flavor in a better way. Right now it’s very difficult for plant breeders to get a handle on flavor and so we’re working with a group of chefs who have the ability to really articulate what they’re looking for in a flavor and what they like and don’t like about particular varieties to be able to communicate that to plant breeders who are working on varieties.

Sevie Kenyon: Julie how do you go about connecting the needs of these markets to your growers?

Julie Dawson: I’ve been trying to get a dialogue established between chefs and farmers and researchers about what they’re looking for will help the farmers gain access to those markets and also help the chefs understand what the farmers need. And they’ve said since the beginning that they really need varieties that the farmers can grow well

Sevie Kenyon: Julie, maybe you can describe what you would see as an ideal system developing over the next 5 or 10 years.

Julie Dawson: I don’t know that there’s ever an ideal system. Usually the food system evolves because of a lot of different innovative people and groups. There are a lot of non-profits and people working and at UW-Madison working on things like distribution, access to good quality food. Making sure that farmers can earn a living and still be able to have food available for under served communities and that’s a real tricky thing with the local food system.

Sevie Kenyon: We’ve been visiting with Julie Dawson – Department of Horticulture, University of Wisconsin-Extension in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison, Wisconsin and I’m Sevie Kenyon.

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